Starting next month, 7,000 more bikes will be unleashed into the transportation ecosystem of New York City. The bike share, or Citi Bike program, is one the Department of Transportation has been contemplating for years and that bike enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting.
With 14,000 additional wheels on the road, bike safety is paramount. And to be safe, you have to follow the rules.
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While the DOT has been touting its Bike Smart campaign for over a year, the pending increase of city cyclists — both experienced and inexperienced on city streets — is reason to pay even closer attention to the rules.
To that end, the Citi Bikes will have the basic rules written on them, and the city’s leading cycling advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, is expanding its outreach. The group considers bike safety a crucial element in its campaign to make cycling as respected a mode of transportation as driving or walking.
“We see an increased need for outreach,” said Caroline Samponaro, the director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, adding that they launched their bike ambassador program last year in part because of bike share.
“We knew with bike share there would be even more growth in biking and it was an opportunity to get ahead,” she said.
Bike ambassadors go out into the streets and educate riders and potential riders about biking laws while working with community groups, schools and public officials. Samponaro says they need more of them.
“When it [bike share] launches, we will need to do more to connect with riders who may be new,” she said.
While it’s expected that the bikes will be used by tourists, commuters and everyday bike riders, the bike share is expected to be used in large part by biking newbies.
“It will draw a totally new crowd into bicycling,” Samponaro said.
On Monday, New York City Comptroller John Liu called into question the safety of bike share, releasing a report that said cycling accidents would result in more legal claims against the city. Liu’s report called for the implementation of a variety of safety measures, including mandatory bike helmets (a helmet is not mandatory under New York state law), more prominent signage, expanding the Safe Streets for Seniors campaign, encouraging bicylists to take safety courses and incorporating biker awareness into driver’s education, among others.
Advances in safety are desired by all, but Samponaro called into question the theory that bike share will result in more accidents and claims against the city.
“The good news is that bike share users are proving all over the world to be safer and have fewer crashes than regular bike riders,” she said. “The notion of a Wild West coming is simply not true.”
But cycling accidents, and fatalities, do occur. According to Liu’s report, 368 “severe” cycling injuries were reported in 2010, and 19 fatalities. The locations with the highest number of cycling and motor vehicle accidents are: Houston and Bowery streets, with 40 between 1995 and 2009, Delancey and Essex streets with, 36 and Alan Street and First Avenue, with 34. In Brooklyn, 30 accidents occurred at Tillary and Adams streets, near the on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. (Check out Crash Stat, which tracks cycling related accidents and was created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Liu’s report and numerous other sources say that the number of cycling related accidents goes down as the rate of ridership goes up. While we can assume the same will be true when 7,000 Citi Bikes hit the streets, abiding by the rules of the road will only make everyone safer.
The actor John Leguizamo shows how NOT to ride a bike in NYC. Video courtesy of NYCDOT.
Samponaro also said that as biking becomes even more of a legitimate mode of transportation, the tone of cyclists will change. While the stereotype of a bike rider is aggressive and non rule abiding, she says that will change with more bikers on the road.
“The tide is turning and the bike share will tip us over that edge,” she said. “I’m expecting a calming affect on the bike riding culture.”